Stromboli, Italy // © 2017 Creative Commons user marinus
Feature image (above): Part of the Canary Islands, La Graciosa is located about 1 mile from Lanzarote. // © 2017 Creative Commons user teliko82
Summer is fast-approaching, and with that comes visions of gorgeous European island getaways. But this summer, instead of selecting the obvious choices — such as Mykonos, Greece; Ibiza, Spain; or Sicily, Italy — consider venturing to one of these lesser-known islands, all of which pack a punch for natural beauty, exoticism and a sense of adventure.
Belle Ile en Mer, France
The aptly named “beautiful island in the sea,” as it translates, is the largest island off the coast of Brittany, France. Belle Ile en Mer is known for its dramatic, craggy cliffs and sleepy fishing ports. In fact, the island’s natural beauty was a source of inspiration for artists and authors such as Claude Monet and Gustave Flaubert. Nearly 60 beaches ring the island, and the interior is home to a few attractions such as the house of French state actress Sarah Bernhardt, a lighthouse and Lyrique en Mer, an annual classical music festival.
Getting There: Ferries leave from nearby Quiberon in Brittany, and travel time is about 45 minutes.
Portugal’s Azores is a collection of nine islands, situated some 1,000 miles off the mainland’s coast. Within this island chain is Faial, the fifth-largest island with a population of about 15,000 people. Known for its sandy beaches and sweeping views over green hills and blue water, the originally volcanic island is one of the most stunning in the Azores.
Visitors would be remiss to skip the Marina of Horta, which is one of the busiest marinas in the world and plays a part in several international regattas. Another popular pastime in Faial is diving, especially in search of blue and mako sharks. Climb the Monte da Guia, a volcanic cone, for spectacular views over the bay of Porto Pim and the city of Horta.
Getting There: Fly into Ponta Delgada, the largest city on the Azores, on the island of Sao Miguel. Take a transfer flight to Horta Airport on Faial.
La Graciosa, Canary Islands
The Canary Islands certainly have a few claims to fame when it comes to tourism, particularly its most popular islands, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and La Fortuna. But the destination has another draw that also deserves a turn in the spotlight: La Graciosa.
This more obscure volcanic island is about 1 mile off the coast of the Canary Islands’ Lanzarote island. With a population of just around 700, La Graciosa is especially known for its fishing industry. White and blue marlin, yellowtail and tuna rule the nearby seas, providing sport fishing opportunities for locals and travelers.
La Graciosa is a good spot for sensitive travelers, for whom nature and tranquility is a high priority. Motor vehicles are prohibited here, but those would be unnecessary on the island’s network of sandy roads. One of La Graciosa’s major highlights is its marine reserve, said to be the largest in Europe.
Getting There: From Lanzarote, there is one ferry route operating to La Graciosa. Crossings operate daily and take approximately 25 minutes.
Island hopping is part of the allure of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, but the Croatian islands of Hvar, Korcula and Vis tend to make up the majority of itineraries. For something off the beaten path — and still with all the natural beauty of the Adriatic — consider the island of Mljet.
Arguably Croatia’s greenest island, Mljet is mostly covered by forests, while the rest is peppered with vineyards and small villages. There are two lakes on the island, with a monastery in the middle of the larger lake; the monastery now houses Melita restaurant.
Besides its sandy beaches, one of the main draws on the island is Odysseus Cave, located below the Babino Polje village. Legend says that Odysseus stayed on the island for seven years following a shipwreck. It is one of the most popular areas for taking in the gorgeous natural views, and sports enthusiasts will love the location for abseiling (rappelling).
Getting There: There are daily catamarans that operate from Dubrovnik, Croatia, as well as a car ferry from Split, Croatia.
A trip off Italy’s coast to its popular islands, Sicily and Sardinia, is a great add-on to an Italian vacation. But for something a tad more adventurous, consider a trip to Stromboli, a volcanic island just north of Sicily and part of the Aeolian Island chain.
Stromboli rises out of the Tyrrhenian Sea like a childhood fantasy of a volcano’s appearance. The perfectly conical structure sets an imposing backdrop, and the volcano is constantly active, spewing lava and rocks down one side of the island. On the other side of the island, life moves along at a slow pace. Life can be tough for locals, as everything has to be imported, but the island itself is a beauty, with black beaches offset by brightly colored flowers and two charming villages.
One of the most popular activities on the island is to visit the volcano. Since the volcano is active, a guide is always needed for these excursions. Travelers can also take a boat trip around the island to enjoy the views or to scuba dive at Strombolicchio, a smaller island nearby.
Getting There: From Sicily, access Stromboli by hydrofoil boat or via ferry operators such as Siremar, Ustica Lines and NGI.